My husband and I took our three teenage girls and one niece with us for this experience. I must warn other travellers now. If you are taking someone else's child with you, you are told to get a letter from the parents advising that they give you permission to take their child out of the country. I did this, and the travel agent and cruise line both had a copy and were happy with it....but....Customs wasn't!!! They wanted the letter witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or Police Officer!!! This was our only hiccup and we did get around it in the end, but I was a little worried if they were going to let us take our niece with us.
Time to board the ship - she looked wonderful. I didn't know what to expect - being a nervous sea going person who suffers badly with motion sickness, even waiting on a jetty! But, once we boarded Rhapsody of the Seas, I put on my A$10 travel calm bands on both wrists - wore them continuously for the first 24 hours and I was great - didn't get sick once!!!
Now for the enjoyable bit. We attended the Christmas Cruise to the Pacific Islands visiting Noumea, Port Vila, Mystery Island, Lifou and Isle of Pines.
Heading off from Sydney was definitely a highlight, sitting at the front of the Viking Lounge, the highest sitting area on the ship, and passing through the Sydney Heads. I was instantly amazed by the staff of the ship. Every member treated us like kings and queens. The room attendants made us feel instantly welcome, and the attendant that the girls had, Lorelei, was absolutely amazing. It was also cool to have so many different nationalities on board. The staff were a league of nations. I think they said that on our cruise, there were 50 nationalities represented by the staff.
I don't really know what I was expecting because out of all the family, I was the one doing all the research (and maybe ended up reading too many negative comments).
Anyway, we elected to dine in the My Time Dining, but after the first night, we were so happy with our two waiters, Leonardo and Zeljko, that we fixed a permanent time each night with them. They were fantastic, entertaining and genuine to us throughout the entire cruise. Very impressed.
The food was amazing - going for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the 5 star dining restaurant! (safer choice for us because portion controlled!). We only ever ate in the help yourself Windjammer Restaurant on port days as the formal dining room was closed for lunch. It was great dressing up for the formal nights, and in hindsight, I think we should have used the on-board photographers more because we ended up buying a disc with all the photos that they took. Oh well, we know for next time.
The entertainment on-board the ship was varied and most enjoyable. From the fun competitions with fellow travellers, to sitting in the theatre watching a production, to napkin artistry lessons, and rumba lessons. It was all top class. You could be as busy or relaxed as you wanted to. Oh, and did I tell you the retail therapy was pretty good. I liked how they put on different sale items each night. We didn't really do any of the late night parties, as we were awake, feeling very refreshed with our rocking night's sleep, at 5am to 6am each day (of course being in an inside room meant we had no idea what the time was), and by the time we went to see the show at the theatre and had dinner at night, we were exhausted. We probably went to bed when the die hard party goers were just rearing up. We probably woke up just after they all crashed into bed!
When it came to drinks, my husband was the only one consuming the alcoholic kind, but the prices were extremely reasonable. I told my lovely cherubs that I refused to buy soft drink bands for them because included in the price of the cruise, available 24/7, was tea, coffee, hot chocolate, traditional lemonade, two beautiful sugar-free punches on tap being strawberry - kiwi and tropical, and of course, chilled water. I must say that I am a new lover of desalination plants. The water on the ship was the best I have ever tasted. That is, it actually had no taste. It was unadulterated with chemicals. It was extremely refreshing.
The ship was very well maintained and always cleaned. I was actually surprised to hear that they are putting it into dry dock in March for a complete new fit-out. Yes, you could see where some things were looking a little bit worn, but the overall condition of the ship was wonderful.
When it came to our port days, once again, the staff did not let us down. They were so careful, caring and efficient in their jobs, and everything ran smoothly with minimal or no waiting time. The first two ports we pulled into the commercial container dock due to the size of the ship, but bus shuttles were available to take you into town, or smaller taxis if you preferred. When it came to the last three tender islands, the liner put out four tender vessels which operated all day long. Once again, no waiting, and we were even able to come back to the ship each lunchtime to have lunch on-board, and then head back out to the islands for some more snorkeling.
Although I personally wasn't impressed with the port city of Noumea, everywhere else was wonderful. The locals were friendly, everyone wanted to have a chat and let us know what was around to see and do. The girls and I went horse riding at Port Vila, through the country-side. It was raining, but I was glad because it actually made the ride cooler and more enjoyable. When we got back to the stables, we were given the opportunity to go bare back riding in the nearby lagoon. I elected to be the bravest, and picked up the cameras and took photos of everyone. My four girls were more than happy to jump back on the horses and wade out into the lagoon. They said it was probably their best moment of all the islands,
Back on board and on our way home, Christmas Eve came with lots of celebrations. Christmas Day was the only real day where we hit some rough sea, but still no sea sickness from this little duck!!!
All in all, we were really sad to be heading back to Sydney. We just wanted to stay on board!!!, but sadly, we did have to leave with tears in our eyes and new friends made.
Now just to clear up some of the things that I have read. We used the stairs as much as possible, but with bad knees, I was probably the one who used the lifts more than anyone else in our party. At no time did I ever see anyone push into a lift, or not be courteous. Everyone including fellow cruisers were wonderful. Everyone took their turn. We even all clapped and cheered the attendants when they successfully helped a couple out with getting their daughter's electric wheelchair on and off one of the tenders - it was an amazing feat, but the staff just seemed to step up to the mark with whatever had to be done. Maybe its what you make out of a cruise that if your nice, everyone else around you seems to naturally comply because I honestly can not say one bad thing about the ship, the staff or our fellow travellers.
I hope these comments help because this is my first entry into Cruise Critic.
Now, to plan our next cruise..... just hubby and I!!!